‘No Child in India Shall be Deprived of Education Because of Hunger’- Akshaya Patra

‘No Child in India Shall be Deprived of Education Because of Hunger’- Akshaya Patra

“No child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger.” – Vision of Akshaya Patra to Eradicate Hunger. International Society for Krishna Consciousness {ISKCON} ‘Akshaya Patra’ Fighting Hunger by Providing Unlimited Food For Education

Mangaluru: The Akshaya Patra Foundation is a not-for-profit organization headquartered in Bengaluru, India. The organization strives to fight issues like hunger and malnutrition in India. By implementing the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in the Government schools and Government aided schools, Akshaya Patra aims to fight not only hunger but also to bring children to school and thereby provide food for education. Since 2000, the organization has worked towards reaching more children with wholesome food on every single school day.

Akshaya Patra is continuously leveraging technology to cater to millions of children. Its state-of-the-art kitchens have become a subject of study and they spark curiosity among many enthusiasts from around the world. In partnership with the Government of India and its respective State Governments and inestimable support from many businesses, philanthropic donors and well-wishers; they have grown from their humble beginnings in the year 2000, serving just 1500 children across 5 schools. Akshaya Patra is today the world’s largest (not-for-profit run) mid-day meal programme serving wholesome food to over 1.39 million children from 10,631 schools across 10 states at 22 locations in India, and Mangaluru is one among them.

I had the opportunity to visit the state-of-the-art facility of ‘Akshaya Patra’ located near Urwa Market in the city, where Nandana Acharya Dasa- Manager Operations, and Nikhilatma Dasa, active member of Akshaya Patra, were very courteous, friendly and offered me the best hospitality one could ever think of, and they also took me on a tour around the facility where I learned quite a lot about this facility and all the good work they do towards the children, by not letting them go hungry during mid-day break at their respective schools. The whole facility, including the kitchen, store room, etc was so clean, tidy and very hygienic. Food safety procedures are very strictly followed, and constant food inspections are done by quality inspectors on regular basis.

Started in the year 2005, the Mangaluru branch of ‘Akshaya Patra’ serves mid-day meals from Monday through Saturday to 137 Government Schools/ Govt aided Schools, including Mangaluru South, Mangaluru North, BC Road, and Puttur – presently 13,000 students in these areas receive their mid-day meal free of cost. 5 chefs, along with 70 other helpers and other staff are at the helm of operations at this place. The expenses incurred per day in supplying mid-day meal is around Rs 1 lakh, which comes to around Rs 24-25 lakh per month, depending on the cost of commodities, fuel etc. The state government provides free rice to the facility and also bears 60% of the food expenses. The government pays Rs 3.34 per student of 1-5 std, and Rs 5 per student of 6-10 std. Rest of the expenses is borne from the funds donated by well-wishers and generous people.

Nandana Acharaya Dasa said, “The organization serves in Government and Government aided schools, mainly targeting children from economically disadvantaged households. With an array of nutritious food on the menu, many children get attracted to school, enrol themselves and attend school regularly. For many children, who’d have to work for a square meal every day, the food comes as a boon not only because they can satiate their hunger but also because they get an opportunity to access education. Many studies show that Mid Day Meals aids to better health among children leading to better cognitive, social and emotional development, among children. There is a visible increase in enrolment and retention of children in school with an increase in attendance”.

The facility/kitchen is ISO certified, and all food safety rules are followed according to Government Safety Standards. Preparation of food starts around 6 am and is completed by 9 am- and then loaded into respective vans to be delivered to various schools by 11.30 am. The menu is common every day, which includes Rice, Sambar, and one special item- it could be curds or Payasam. The cooked food is packed in ‘Stainless Steel 304 Grade Containers’ which keeps food warm for nearly 7-8 hours. About 2500 kg rice, 500 kgs Daal, 1200 kg vegetables, 1200 litres of curds, 1800 litres of payasam, 500-600 coconuts (when Payasam is prepared nearly 700-800 coconuts are used) is needed for preparing the daily mid-day meal.

Before the cooked food/meal is ready to be sent to the school children, all the staff at the facility tries it to make sure it is perfect and safe to be consumed. Even I was offered a meal comprising of rice, Sambar and Payasam. Wow- the Sambar and the Payasam were the best that I ever had in my life. I joked with the facility manager if I could come every day for the meal, and he replied, ” Off course Sir, you are welcome any time, any day”. That’s how nice and courteous are the folks at ‘Akshaya Patra’, offering you the best hospitality and care when you visit their facility.

When I asked Nandana Acharya Dasa, what made him join ISKCON and help out at Akshaya Patra, being a BE Mechanical graduate from Bangalore University, he replied, “I wanted to serve the community, especially the children. Having mechanical experience, I feel comfortable here where I can use my talents/experience since we have a lot of machinery at this facility. I wanted to offer myself towards a spiritual cause, and also towards the social cause. I love being here, we all work together as a family, the feeling of unity and togetherness is in the air at this Akshaya Patra”.

Also communicating with me, Karunya Sagar Dasa- Unit President of The Akshaya Patra Patra Foundation, Mangaluru said, ” The Founder Acharya of ISKCON Srila Prabhupada once said, “Our centers should be for feeding the needy and poor with food and spiritual knowledge without any discrimination of caste and creed”. At Akshaya Patra, we invite anyone, “Come and take food.” for we don’t want to see that anyone is hungry especially children. So God consciousness means all the good ideas we are manufacturing, they will be manifested in God consciousness automatically. Therefore our duty should be, if we want to make all human beings well-behaved, then we must try to make every one of them God conscious”.

He further said, “Our process is that everyone who is hungry, come and take your food. We may not live a very luxurious life, but there should not be a scarcity of food, shelter or clothes. There should not be scarcity, we all need to live happily. Happiness is all that we need in life. Not that because we did not possess a motorcar, therefore we are unhappy. Anyone can live without a car. But without food, you cannot live and people cannot live. And without food, children certainly cannot concentrate on studies and get to shape their future, better prospects and better quality of life. Therefore this food distribution program is one of ISKCON’s most important activities. We are making a sincere attempt to fulfil this important need”.

“Being inspired by the above concern of our Acharya in the year 2000 the President of ISKCON, Bangalore. Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa started this mid-day meal program under the banner “Akshaya Patra” with a humble beginning of 1500 children in Bengaluru. Now by the blessings of the Acharya Srila Prabhupad and the guidance of Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa today the program reaches to nine states in our country feeding 15,00,000 lakh children per day. Currently the Foundation reaches to the underprivileged children in Bengaluru, Hubli-Dharwad, Bellary, Mangaluru and Mysore in Karnataka, Jaipur, Nathdwara and Baran in Rajasthan, Vrindavan, Lucknow and Mathura district in Uttar Pradesh, Puri, Rourkela and Nayagarh in Orissa, Gandhinagar, Surat, Baroda and Ahmedabad in Gujarat, Hyderabad and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, Bhilai in Chattisgarh and Guwahati in Assam,Chennai in Tamil Nadu ” added K S Dasa.

If anyone wants to help out at the ‘Akshaya Patra’ you are most welcomed by the management. Every one of us, at some time in our life, feels like contributing towards the betterment of the society. But among the various obstacles faced by many of us in doing so, are limitations pertaining to time. In order to tackle these and give you the opportunity to support the cause of uplifting underprivileged school children in our area and beyond, The Akshaya Patra Foundation has made volunteering provisions that will give you the freedom to spread their message without disturbing your schedule. As I clarified with the management, you are not obligated nor will be forced to join their organization, (joining their movement is your wish )- but your volunteerism is very much encouraged by them.

So if you feel like volunteering, fundraising and other activities, you can reach ‘ The Akshaya Patra Foundation’ at Arya Samaj Road, Balmatta, Mangaluru-575003; Phone: 0824-2410722, 0824-2454498, 9945550108 Email: nnad@akshayapatra.org Website: www.akshayapatra.org

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